Accentuate the negative, eliminate the positives!

Posted 7 August, 2011 Anthony Tan (staring at yet another render. But still loving it for some reason..)

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To be fair this isn't life or death but I saw this today, and got a bit incensed about the copy, the implication that cyclists are a plague descending unto London to wreck travel plans, and just the waste of words. Honestly, why wouldn't you just write this a bit differently and at least try make people excited, instead of just spawning doom?

I was shuttling round on the tube this weekend in and out of town and came across the pictured poster (scuse the bad resolution - taken on a cameraphone at Earls Court just as we were about to head off) in a few places. I'm personally aware of the event because of various emails and whatnot, but imagine what you're going to see and think if this is your first inkling that there's a cycle race on. I'd paraphrase it as..

Cyclists are coming. There will be major travel issues. Obviously it's their fault since otherwise why would we mention them? Oh, its for the Olympics too but that's not important. More important is that you'll be severely inconvenienced

Even the tone of the additional text underneath is pretty flat:

In preparation for the Games the London-Surrey Cycle Classic Road Race will be taking place throughout South West London and Surrey, starting and finishing in Central London. Roads will be closed along the way and busses will be affected from very early morning to mid afternoon. Plan ahead to avoid using the roads. For more information visit

Way to build excitement, engage your audience, and put travelers in a good mood TFL.

Why do we have to sound so gloomy?

In case it wasn't already obvious, I particularly dislike this on several levels.

First of all, as an occasional cyclist, I'm particularly sensitive to reputation/PR issues around cyclists in the city - things like this just make it sound like cycle-borne road users (note how the headline copy isn't Event XYZ is coming - it's the cyclists) are a nuisance to normal the transport order.

Equally annoying, it's frustrating to see something like this when I'm aware that the same organisation and the Mayor is making efforts to get more people on bikes. You want to get people cycling because it's better than clogged tubes busses and roads? Don't make the implication that cyclists = traffic disruption. There's a whole campaign on getting people on bikes, and promoting cycling which this isn't really helping (it's not hindering much, but it's still a waste)

Lastly, and the subject of this piece - I think it's just really lazy copy in general. It's effective at indicating that there's disruption pending, but you don't need a hundred words to say that. A hundred words is a lot, and I hate to see them wasted so... that same space can get people thinking of this as something other than just a disruption - like, oh, I dunno.. a world-class cycling event, free to watch, coming to a city near you?

The things I know (because I just looked them up)

The London-Surrey Cycle Classic is going to be a major test event for the 2012 Olympic Games. It's going to have some major names in international cycling taking part - Mark Cavendish for example is likely to show up. It's going to have teams from all around the world show off. It's free to watch. It's an event and a spectacle.

And yet, you wouldn't know it from the ad. Hell, you wouldn't even necessarily know to go looking for the information, all you get told by the poster is that you really need to be aware of all the problems you're going to have on the 14th of August. Lots of problems. In fact, all it is going to be is a problem.

While there's attempts at providing more information in the small print, there's still not enough to plan from (you need to go to the mentioned website), yet there's enough to get you annoyed about the disruption. Lets not bother keeping the pre-games excitement level up, or raising the profile of cycling and TFL's efforts in the area, or even just sounding well, happy.

Minor rewording - major retoning

Here's my proposed alternative - it's not perfect, but you get the idea of where I'm heading with the tone and style. Mainly, I've not watered down the core 'massive disruption' message, but it's no longer anyone's fault - it's essential work for the Games, and exciting to boot! The copy needs some polish, but for the illustration, I'm happy with it..

Here's what it used to look like (text surgically enhanced for fair comparison purposes...):

And here's what I think it should've looked like:

Updates to the top level

  • Minor rephrasing - the magnitude ('major') and what ('travel disruption') fits on one line now, not two. 'severely affected' as a hanger looks bad to me.
  • The date has been promoted to the top level - it's critical information.
  • Removed 'the cyclists are coming' - it's not critical, and doesn't deserve to take up valuable header space.
  • The name of the event is a lot clearer for identification purposes

Changes to the body text

  • I've lost the 'South West and Central London affected' detail, and also the 'Busses affected from early morning to mid afternoon' lines. I don't believe that it's any more use than 'major travel disruption' as a flag to go and find out more.
  • Mentioned that we've invited world class athletes in to hint that it's not just a club ride - it's a Big Thing.
  • Mentioned that we're closing the road for safety's sake and so you can go and have a gander (because people like to know why)
  • Made it sound like an event you're invited to - not just a hindrance - and a sneak preview of the Games.
  • Added in a phone number because it's poor form to assume everyone has internet access.
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    1. Here's a better sell - the London Prepares Series site ( - but they don't have a direct connection to TFL, so I'm not grumbling at them too much.
    2. And for tone comparison, here's TFL's own cycling portal and particularly, their Catch Up With The Bicycle mini site.